The embattled executive director of Island Transit quit Friday after a tense meeting with the board of directors and an hour-long executive session.
It was unclear whether the board asked Martha Rose to turn in her keys during the closed-door session, or even whether she retired or resigned. The board members voted unanimously — with Island County Commissioner Helen Price Johnson calling in — to accept Rose’s letter of resignation.
But afterward, Rose said she was retiring, not resigning.
Rose previously said she had no plans to leave, but changed her tune after the Oak Harbor City Council appointed Mayor Scott Dudley to the transit board on a temporary basis. He is filling in for Councilman Jim Campbell, who’s on an extended vacation.
Dudley made it clear during the meeting and in an interview with a Whidbey News Group reporter Thursday that he would call for her to be fired. He said the city council was also concerned about the financial mismanagement of the agency, which was why they appointed him to the position.
“They had no problem siccing me on Island Transit,” said Dudley, who has a well-earned reputation for firing people.
He said he would start going after board members if they didn’t agree to force Rose out.
“This is not a glitch. This is not a small mistake,” he said. “This is mismanagement at its worse.”
Dudley, who may be running for reelection next year, announced this week that he spearheaded the creation of a new group, Citizens for a Better Island Transit. The first meeting was Thursday night.
Rose said she had planned on leaving Island Transit once the new facility was built, but then decided to stay on to help weather the financial emergency that came to light this summer. The board was forced to lay off employees, cut routes and take out $2.3 million in bank loans to cover a deficit.
Rose said it became obvious that her continued presence was causing a distraction. Many in the community, including the Whidbey News Group, had called for her to leave the agency. She said in an interview that it didn’t make sense to battle with people who had political and personal agendas.
She said her retirement amidst such criticism was a terrible way to leave after 25 years, but that it won’t take away the joy she’s experienced in helping to build a nationally recognized agency.
“It’s been the love of my life, other than my children,” she said.
Much of the meeting was focused on Rose’s leadership and questions about financial issues.
“I am amazed at this board’s patience with the Island Transit management,” said audience member Jeff Lauderdale. “Despite clear indicators of unacceptable performance, you continue to rely on your current director’s advice and counsel.”
Dudley was outspoken in questioning the financial information and sparred with Rose and Sandra Kuykendall, the former finance manager who was brought back to help with the books. Dudley stopped speaking several times to glare at the two women, who were whispering to each other.
Dudley interjected when Rose called him “Scott.”
“It’s Mr. Dudley,” he said.
The board decided to meet next week to discuss the transition plan for management. In the meantime, Coupeville Town Councilman Bob Clay, as chairman of the transit board, is CEO of the agency.